Understanding the Role of Bail Funds in a Cash Bail System
“Only one factor determines whether a defendant stays in jail before he comes to trial. That factor is not guilt or innocence. It is not the nature of the crime. It is not the character of the defendant. That factor is, simply, money. How much money does the defendant have?” —Robert F. Kennedy
Northwest Community Bail Fund is dedicated to ending cash bail and pretrial detention in Washington State. Our work assures that the most targeted and vulnerable are able to assert their legal right to the presumption of innocence and their constitutionally protected freedom from excessive bail. When bail is unaffordable, it results in longer pretrial detention which is linked to poorer outcomes including higher rates of conviction and longer sentences.
Washington Courts addressing bail have said: “The State is not primarily interested in collecting bond forfeitures but is more concerned with granting liberty to an accused pending trial while obtaining the greatest possible assurance that he will appear.” –State v. Barton, 331 P.3d 50 – Wash: Supreme Court 2014
We oppose pretrial detention and cash bail because they harm communities and are racist, classist, transphobic and ableist. High bails do not increase safety, rather they make sure that only the wealthy and people with resources go free, creating two systems of criminal process in Washington: one for people who can afford bail and another for people who can’t.
Public narrative asserts that someone in the midst of a mental health crisis or substance use crisis will receive services while in jail or be forwarded from jail to other providers; however, this is rarely the case. These services are stretched thin often with month’s long wait lists for services. The lack of spaces in treatment facilities for referrals can be traced to historic underfunding, while police and corrections budgets have soared. Often, jail time disrupts, delays, or prevents access to stabilizing medicine and treatment, with detrimental effects.
Community safety cannot be achieved without addressing the underlying causes of crime by investing resources in life-affirming and community-building endeavors. We deserve safe communities that are well-resourced, not more criminalization, policing, incarceration and surveillance. Institutions that inflict harm do not keep us safe. Civic leaders, policy makers and elected officials must make real community-centered investments in housing, mental health resources, healthcare, healing and trauma services, education, employment and economic opportunity over more funding for policing jails and prisons to solve social problems.
As the first national survey of survivors of violence illustrates, people who have been harmed want to focus on healing and rehabilitation, not punishment and incarceration. It is a profound tragedy when any person is harmed; people who have been hurt need and deserve access to support, trauma services, and healing. It is for these reasons that we prioritize investing in restorative and transformative justice and community-led safety. It is only through a radical transformation of our priorities that we can hope for collective healing.
The Northwest Community Bail Fund is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit and contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.